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Defending champion Baird squeaks through Big Air qualifying in Edmonton

Canadian rider Jasmine Baird competes during the women's World Cup slopestyle snowboard event in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh Canadian rider Jasmine Baird competes during the women's World Cup slopestyle snowboard event in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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EDMONTON -

Canadian rider Jasmine Baird will have the chance to defend her FIS Big Air Snowboard title at Commonwealth Stadium. But she had to sweat out a nervous qualifying process first.

Baird, who won the women’s title on the scaffolding ramp at Commonwealth Stadium in 2022, entered the third and final run of qualifying in eighth position. Only eight riders make Saturday’s final, so she was on the bubble.

The Georgetown, Ont.-raised rider landed a double 900 flip, and her combined score of 141.50 was good enough to keep her in eighth place. She had to wait for four more riders to complete their third and final jumps, but none could budge her from the final qualifying spot.

“There wasn’t much I could do but sit and wait, and hope,” said Baird.

Baird landed all three of her jumps. In World Cup qualifying. Two of three jumps count towards the final score. Her other scoring trick was a 720 backside with a Weddle grab.

“I’m happy I landed my tricks,” she said. “The first one wasn’t as clean as I wanted, but the other two felt good and now we’ll see.”

Baird will be joined by fellow Canadian Laurie Blouin, from Quebec City. She was a comfortable sixth with a combined score of 148.25, even though she failed to land her third attempt, a frontside 1080.

“I’m pretty stoked,” said Blouin. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to land my last trick, but overall I’m happy. The jump is riding really good today. It’s the best it’s ever been.”

Even though Baird delighted the Canadian snowboard fans by winning this event in 2022, the scaffold jump was plagued with problems. Temperatures of below -20 C made for a sticky snow surface. Riders complained that they couldn’t get enough speed off the drop in order to get enough air to safely complete their jumps. Eight of 21 female riders dropped out.

This year, the run is steeper, and has been extended by two storeys. The top of the scaffold hill is 100 feet above top row of seats in the upper deck at Commonwealth Stadium.

“It’s faster,” said Blouin. “The jump is similar, but the speed is really nice, right now. Last year, I got hurt because we didn’t have enough speed.”

“The jump is way sicker today,” said Baird. “It’s definitely more fun to ride than it was in the practice days."

Blouin and Baird will be joined in the final by some of the biggest global superstars in women’s snowboarding.

Austrian Anna Gasser, the gold medalist in Big Air at both the 2018 and 2022 Winter Olympics, finished seventh in qualifying even though she fell on her third jump, a backside 1080.

Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi, the reigning X Games Big Air champ and the winner of last season’s overall Big Air World Cup title, finished fourth with a 155.25.

But the biggest mark was made by 2022 Olympic silver medallist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who finished at the top of qualifying with an 184.25, and her switchback 1260, which earned a 99 (out of 100) from the judges, was the talk of the hill.

“No way, that’s so sick,” Baird said when she learned of the New Zealander’s score. Sadowski-Synnott went down the hill before Baird, and the Canadian was getting prepped for her own make-or-break jump.

“When the other girls are dropping, I am kind of in my own zone and think about what I am doing,” she said. “But that score is crazy, though.”

Juliette Pelchat of Whistler, B.C. finished 10th and did not qualify for Saturday’s final.

Men’s qualifying goes Friday evening at Commonwealth Stadium. Eleven of the 59 scheduled entrants are Canadians, including Saint Jean, Que.’s Nicolas Laframboise, who won bronze at this event in 2022.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2023. 

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